Local Legacies: Factors Influencing the Relationship between Literary Sites and Local Communities


  • Margaret E. Styles
  • Theresa G. Coble


Community Relations, Literary Sites, Eugene O’Neill, Place Attachment, Public History


Protected historic sites are often in close proximity to, or surrounded by, a community.. The relationship between an historic site and its local community will affect the significance and meanings ascribed to the site, as well as the level of site promotion and visitation. The purpose of this qualitative study was to (1) determine what factors influence the degree of support communities provide to local historic sites, specifically literary sites, and (2) provide site managers with a conceptual framework that can be used to build stronger relationships with their communities. There were two phases to this research project. The first phase used phone interviews to explore the potential factors that may influence sitecommunity relations for 17 U.S. literary sites. The second phase focused on a specific literary site, Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site (NHS) in Danville, California. Focus group interviews were conducted to explore the meanings, significance, and degree of place attachment Danville community members ascribed to the O’Neill historic site. Five factors emerged from the literary site interviews: Centrality of the Site, Community’s Sense of Identity with the Writer, Writer’s Connection to their Community, Literary Site Outreach Programming, and Community Partnerships. The factors incorporate potential positive and negative effects to the literary site-community relations. Study results suggest that the O’Neill historic site in Danville has a low relative score of influential factors, contributing to a low level of place attachment among the community members. Other sites, such as William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi, have a high relative score of influential factors leading to a strong literary sitecommunity connection. The conceptual framework developed from the study illustrates the correlation between the key constructs from existing literature, the literary site influential factors, and site-community specific issues. When the Danville community focus group results were applied to the framework, it indicated there was a higher level of negative rather than positive influences on the Danville-O’Neill site relationship. The findings are significant and influence the stewardship ethic or preservation efforts of the community towards the site. Managers can apply the conceptual framework at their literary and historic sites to assess the extent to which the identified factors are positively or negatively influencing local sitecommunity relations. Identifying these factors and their influences will assist site managers in determining where to focus efforts to develop more effective community outreach programs and build stronger relationships with their local communities.





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